Masafer - Eduardo Soteras Jalil

With his long-term project, started in 2011, Eduardo Soteras Jalil tells of the life of the cave-dwelling communities in South Hills of Hebron, where he lived for more than a year and half.

In the desert
dawn arrives.
Somebody knows it.

Jorge Luis Borges, Haiku 8
, from
Seventeen Haikus

An interstice is a space between two things. It can also can be a part of a same thing to which it belongs and at the same time is a stranger. This is the story of Masafer Yatta, a space inside another space, a world that is strange to everyone. There is a story, one with numbers: this place during the Ottoman era was supposed to pay taxes for the land and for the animals, and each time that the collector appeared everyone disappeared, having the collector to write in his report “sifr, sifr, sifr”. Sifr, zero: null, emptiness, nothingness. From the sifr to the Masafer didn’t take long, almost as little as from the distance of this place to the city of Yatta. Here, like with the zero, there is nothing, only emptiness. At the same time, the whole can be contained. Here, in the whole, life is simple; it’s the life of people that live very close to the ground, so close that many of them sleep in its womb, in caves that they, their grandparents, and their great grandparents carved into the stone. So simple that everyone is doing the same thing for survival, raising goats and sheep and practicing a shy and scarce agriculture. Here, in the nothingness, survives a Palestinian population that is unknown both inside and outside Palestine, in an area with no access to water, electricity nor roads, isolated from the rest of the West Bank by a belt of illegal Israeli settlements, making a living in the place that becomes more and more difficult every day. In the middle, in the Interstice, the people of Masafer Yatta live, love, transform and adapt; keeping a lifestyle that in many cases is not a choice: here, everything is decided by others, strangers.

There is also a new story with numbers. The 000 was transformed into a 918, which is the number assignated by the Israeli army to this area: the Firing Zone 918. For that, they have declared the expulsion of its communities as soon as possible, and the request is still pending: here, everything is decided by others, strangers. Some say that the days of this lifestyle are counted. Others say that everything will remain as it is. Here, when the dawn breaks, somebody says nothing.

Returning with the flocks to the village of el Maghez. 08/10/11.

A youngster, seen from below, processing barley at spring. The barley is cut and set inside a machine that separates the seeds from the straws.

A TV set outside a cave in Mgraied El Abid. The villages are not connected to the electrical grid, and some of them recently have access to renewable energy from solar panels and wind turbines provided by an Israeli NGO.

Khalaf Suleman (30), shepherd of camels, on his daily grazing round in the desert.

The Awad family gathers at the bonfire at dawn.

A young shepherd returning home with his flock after a day of scarce grazing in Masafer Yatta.

Ibrahim Ahmad Awad (3) looking through binoculars. Binoculars are very important for the shepherds since allow them to see at the distance if there are any Israeli settlers in the area. Settlers constantly attack shepherds.

Mohamad Jabarin (74) looks at his flock in the interior of a cave in the village of Jinba.

Barley fields during the spring.

Ibrahim Awad (71) taking a nap during a day of work in his land in Masafer Yatta.

Ibrahim Awad (71) spreading seeds in one of his family’s fields in Masafer Yatta. The communities in Masafer Yatta practice dry cultivation of wheat and barley, depending on the winter rain.

A family from the village of El Maghez is preparing a tent for the winter. Besides the caves, the inhabitants of Masafer Yatta live in tents that traditionally were made out of goats’ hair. Nowadays are made of plastic fabrics.

Students of the school at El Fakhid.

Ahmad Ibrahim Awad (34), shepherd.

Zohour Awad (63) massaging her son Ali (42) at the family’s cave in the village of Tuba

Dalal Awad (14) reading a book at her family’s cave in the village of Tuba

View, through a car window, of the flocks in the hamlet of El Fakhid.

Dalal (R, 14) and Reem (L, 13) Awad in their family’s cave in the vilage of Tuba. At far left a working TV can be seen: since 2010 Tuba has solar and wind energy from a system provided by an Israeli NGO.

Landscape of Masafer Yatta.

Aisha Awad (23) posing in her cave.

The caves of Mgraied El Abid (literally: “the caves of the slaves”) are among the most ancient in the area, probably from the Roman period. The interior still conserves the adobe stores (on the right of the photo) where the grain and the flour used to be collected. Nowadays most of the families are not self-sufficient but depend on international aid.

A meeting of farmers of the area of Masafer Yatta in the School of El Fakhid. The level of rains have been dropping dramatically in the past years, and keeping the flocks is becoming harder.

Two kids from Tuba on their way to school. The closest way is through the illegal settlement of Ma’on, and they need to be escorted by the Israeli army in order not be attacked by the settlers.

Children of the Awad family play at the water tanks in the village of Tuba

Youssuf Awad (12) at the bottom of the empty family cistern in the village of Tuba. Communities in the area rely for survival on cisterns dug in the hills that collect the rainwater during the winter.

Riad Awad (12) standing on his donkey, on the way to his family’s cistern. 

Ali Awad (45) from the hamlet of At Tuba filling water in his tank in the village of At Twani, in a facility connected to the Israeli water system. There are no sources of water in the area, and people depend on the collection of rain water in cisterns. The water is not enough for the whole summer, so the villagers depend on buying water at very high prices and having to go long distances in their tractors to get it.

Youssouf Awad (12) carrying branches in order to make a fire.

Yousuf Awad waiting at his father’s tractor.

Members of the Awad family picking up dry bushes for use as fuel.

View of the Chicken Houses of the illegal settlement of Ma’on.

A blanket covering kishek cheese. Kishek is a dry cheese made out of goats’ and sheep’s milk and salt and it needs no refrigeration. It is one of the main sources of income for the families in Masafer Yatta.

General view of the Masafer Yatta from the village of Ahmedi.